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Raising productivity levels has become something of a modern-day Holy Grail, with most of us now seeking to squeeze more and more out of our day. And there is no shortage of advice on how to do just that. A new app seems to be released every day promising to help you ‘Get Things Done’ (or GTD) better and faster.

However, recent research from Kansas State University suggests that we might be missing a simple, fun and somewhat counterintuitive method to becoming more productive. The study found that taking short breaks during the working day to play games or interact with friends and family on social networks can lead to rather impressive jumps in productivity levels, as well as reducing stress and raising a sense of well-being.

In one sense, this shouldn’t be surprising. Novelists have known for a long time that the best way to get over a writer’s block is to stop banging one’s head against the wall of creativity fatigue, and go out to do something different, whether it be walking in nature or solving a crossword puzzle. Computer programmers will also be familiar with the phenomenon of spending 2 days trying to fix a bug or make a new feature work, only for the solution to crystallize in their heads while they are relaxing in the bathtub.

Now that smartphones are an integral part of our daily lives, it’s good to know that they can also be an aid to relaxing the brain for just amount of time needed to give us a boost. Facebook and Google are well-known for decking out their offices with gaming consoles, and encourage their staff to use them whenever they need to do. While not all of us are lucky enough to work at these tech titans, the fact that (almost) all of us carry around a gaming device in our pocket, means we can all take advantage of playing games in the office, to spur creativity and productivity.

However, it seems that not all kinds of games give the same kinds of productivity boost. The games which work best are those which are easy to dip and out of, and can be easily completed and forgotten about by the time you go back to work. They should allow for the kind of passive thinking which lets your subconscious find solutions to mental problems, and not create a whole set of new issues for your brain to solve.

It’s important, then, to choose your games wisely. Ideally you want to play a game which isn’t too taxing, which can give your brain a short break from your work activities, and doesn’t immerse you too much into another world. The last thing you want to do is to go back to your desk and spend the next hour obsessing about which weapon you need to use to free Princess Zelda from the Orcs.

Role-playing or complex strategy games then are out, while short games which can be played from start to finish within the duration of a standard coffee break are ideal. For example, Angry Birds is perfect, and novelist Salman Rushdie, Mad Men actor Jon Hamm and former British Prime Minister David Cameron are all known to play it during breaks between writing, thinking up advertising slogans and answering questions in Parliament.

A few spins of an old-fashioned slot machine would also good for giving the brain a rest, but since these machines are rather cumbersome for an office environment, you would probably be better off sticking to playing casino games in their online mode. Similarly, if you are not really a gamer, then just going on Facebook to catch up with friends and family can also give your brain the short rest required to give your productivity a boost.

Achieving more in life, whether it be on professional or personal projects is a big goal for most of us, but the sheer scale of advice can be overwhelming. That’s why this Kansas University study is so intriguing, as it suggests that if you choose your method of unwinding wisely, you can gain significant boosts to your productivity, allowing you to truly get more done. Now if you will excuse me, I am off to the bathroom to play a few rounds of Tetris.


Want to boost productivity at work? Play more games
Digital Mag

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